Is Jesus’ mission to fulfil the Word of God so different from our highest hopes of justice in the world and of happiness for ourselves and those dear to us? Peter Gallagher SJ reflects.
Fulfilment. Among our holy purposes in worshipping God is the seeking of fulfilment. We seek to be fulfilled by our participation in what happens in our prayer and sacrifice. There is fulfilment in the presence of Christ in Holy Communion. There is fulfilment in the Word of God. There is fulfilment in the community of faith as we celebrate together. There is fulfilment in the truth; the truths which we affirm; the truths by which, with the grace of God, we live our life; the truth of God come down among us to save us and strengthen us and lead us to the Father. We are fulfilled by the truth which the Holy Spirit is teaching us all the time. This present fulfilment is an anticipation of a much greater fulfilment which, we pray, will be life forever with God
Is this assertion of fulfilment in God’s service too remote from our own feelings right now? We may not be experiencing fulfilment. We bring to church numerous concerns. We are anxious about various political and economic crises. Disharmony disturbs us very much. We know of fellow human beings in the most terrible plights, the greatest dangers. We may have worries about the health of others and about our own. We are troubled by concerns about the work and studies of persons dear to us. We may be navigating a bad patch. Our sense of spiritual well-being may be weak right now. We know how hard it is to stay faithful to God. We are perplexed because so many of our contemporaries, including some cherished ones who can observe much of our own life, have no interest in God. The kind of fulfilment mentioned already can seem very different from the kinds of fulfilment which many seemingly perfectly good and happy people seek. Without condemning the world, we know that does not find its complete fulfilment in Christ, nor in the sacraments, nor in the Word of God, nor in that form of loving service of others which understands this life as a preparation for eternal life.
In the Gospel just read Jesus declares: This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen. He had the eager attention of all in his home synagogue; he proclaimed a famous passage from the prophet Isaiah about the conferring spiritual freedom. And then He said: This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen. But surely this was a different sort of fulfilment from the ones we have been circling around up until now? This is the coming true of the scriptures: or their truth becoming apparent. We were speaking, were we not, of personal fulfilment? Of happiness? Of contentment with our life?
Is Jesus’ mission to fulfil the Word of God so different from our highest hopes of justice in the world and of happiness for ourselves and those dear to us? We know that the Lord fulfils the scriptures not by confirming predictions but by who he is and what he does. Christ fulfils history by his saving mission. By who he is from all ages and in countless particular lives, he brings fulfilment. In the creed we say that Christ suffered, died and rose again according to the scriptures. This fulfilment of prophecies and hopes is certainly a confirmation of the faith and of the truth of what God has always been saying to us. However the fulfilment is in the person of Jesus. The Lord fulfils the scriptures. It is Jesus himself who brings good news and who frees and who gives ‘new sight’ fresh understanding and wisdom.
Does not our connection to Jesus fulfil us? Is it not because of him that the Word of God satisfies us, that the sacraments strengthen us and delight us, that the community of believers, despite its faults and disunities, presents itself to us as the body of Christ which unifies and fulfils? This fulfilment, if have it, addresses itself to all those un-fulfilments mentioned earlier. Christ, the fulfilment of history, invites us to look with new eyes at the problems of our world, and continent and land. He is Lord of all, including our little household, our modest workplace, our school or college, our street. If Jesus is the fulfilment of our hopes: then there is some comfort for us even bereaved, sick, worried about others, or in whatever trouble we find ourselves. The troubles continue; we continue to search for solutions; and we know that Jesus, the Word of God, the saviour of the world, our personal saviour is concerning himself with our life .
Jesus Christ speaks to us not from a rostrum or pulpit or throne. Or rather, the Lord version of ‘speaking with authority’, which he surely possesses, surprises us. He presides over our fulfilment disconcertingly.
Jesus the fulfilment is not afraid to seem unfulfilled nor to ally himself to those who consider themselves the very opposite of fulfilled. The cross is part of the fulfilment and it is never out of sight here or in the outlook of the one who fulfils us by means of it. Through him, with him and in him we are fulfilled. The Lord completes us by enabling our obedience to a testing destiny. Jesus unrolls a scroll. The scroll is the scriptures. The scroll is also the whole history of the world. The book from which Jesus reads is also our biography. He finds the key passage and explains it to us. He solemnly declares that this text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.
Our fulfilment is in Christ. The fulfilment is in his gracious care for us through every challenge. The fulfilment is in our rapt attention to what the Lord has to say us this day, at this juncture, in this crisis, in this trouble. The fulfilment is in a trajectory which is taking us with Jesus to Calvary and resurrection and on towards happiness with God forever in heaven.
Peter Gallagher SJ